Saturday, March 12, 2022

The 1831 Dr. Charles M. Graham House - 11 West 11th Street


In 1834 Dr. Charles M. Graham would build a row of ten Greek Revival style houses on West 11th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  But three years before starting that project, he erected his own home at the eastern end of the stretch of property, at what would later be numbered 11 West 11th Street.

Two-and-a-half stories tall, it was designed in the Federal style, with one or two dormers poking through the peaked roof.  The Flemish bond red brick was trimmed in brownstone.  The extra money Graham spent on the handsome paneling of the brownstone lintels  hints at the grand interiors his family enjoyed.

The paneled lintels were an extra expense.  The handsome Italianate doors were added later.

Dr. Graham was somewhat a pioneer in his field.  Nine years before starting construction on his residence he was granted a patent for artificial teeth.  

The Grahams remained in the house at least through 1851, and in 1853 it was being leased to Almira F. Craig, the widow of Aaron R. Craig, who operated it as a boarding house.  She had four boarders that year: Abel S. Baldwin, who was in the drygoods business; Edward L. Lidgerwood, whose ironworks business had two locations in Manhattan; stationer Samuel T. Peters; and James Riddle, who was a carman, or delivery driver.

Several of the boarders remained for years.  Abel S. Baldwin, for instance, was still here until 1859; and Manuel Rubira, an importer, took a room in 1857 and stayed through 1862.  Another long-term boarder was Julian G. Davies, whose piano making shop, Julian Davies & Company, was at 6 Astor Place.  He is first listed in the house in 1858 and was still here in 1866.

By then his landlady was Sara G. Hall, the widow of Russell D. Hall.  She had taken over in 1859.  Also moving in that year was her son, Russell D. Hall, Jr., a partner in the umbrella firm of Hall & Wetmore.

In January 1865, Julian G. Davies was pulled into a ugly divorce case involving two previous residents.  Andrew J. Millspaugh, a drygoods merchant, and his wife, the former Mary Minturn, had moved in around 1858.  Millspaugh was about twice his wife's age and, according to her friends, was "disagreeable, unkind and ungentlemanly, and frequently intoxicated."  Mary was barely out of her teens and afraid of her husband, whom she stated to a confidante, had "knocked her over a chair shortly after her marriage."  She fell in love with another boarder, a young attorney named John O. Halstead.

Julian Davies sold the Millspaughs a piano.  Davies testified that later, while discussing that instrument, Millspaugh told him "that he believed she had criminal intercourse with Mr. Halstead and other persons."  He was already in the course of planning a divorce.  Davies recalled that Millspaugh said a divorce suit "was coming on, that Mrs. Millspaugh wanted to have it private, but that he would have it public, before a jury, and that it would ruin two of three families."  Uncomfortable, Davies quickly turned the conversation back to the piano.

The divorce would never happen because John Halstead died in the boarding house in December 1859.  A friend of the Millspaughs, Alfred M. Coffin, testified that Mary "would say that she could not live with[her husband]."  And so in 1861 she escaped.  

But in 1864 the scorned Andrew Jackson Millsbaugh tracked her down.  A young broker, Seth Adams III, had helped her get to Fort Wayne, Indiana, known as the time as an easy place to procure a divorce.  Millsbaugh was too late.  Now free, she married Adams in Boston and they were living happily back in New York City.

Millsbaugh sued Seth Adams in what The New York Times on January 21, 1865 called "this now celebrated case."  While the trial presumably was about the legality of the divorce laws of Indiana and, consequentially, the legitimacy of the Adams' marriage; Millsbaugh was also determined to embarrass his former wife as an adulterer and bigamist.  A by-product was the damage to his own reputation as witnesses repeatedly spoke of his abusiveness, drunkenness and cruelty.

Julian G. Davies was put on the stand.  Despite the clear evidence that Mary and Halstead had carried on an affair in the West 11th Street house, the the piano manufacturer maintained decorum.  "I saw nothing but friendship existing between them; [Halstead] was a good, kind gentleman," he told the court.

In 1872 Pedro Gasses and Valentino Benito leased the house.  It was most likely at this time that the attic raised to a full floor and an Italianate cornice and entrance doors were added.  Because the architect precisely copied the original paneled lintels, only the change from Flemish to running bond brickwork testifies to the alteration.

The with attic raised to a third floor, the house rose above Dr. Graham's 1834 houses to the west.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

While Gasses and Benito were listed in directories as running a boarding house, they styled the business the Hotel Del Decreo.  It still catered to well-to-do residents.  On December 24, 1874 The New York Times announced:

There will be held for a few days an exhibition of a magnificent collection of original and authentic paint[ing]s of the most celebrated and well-known artists, such as Ribeca, (Espanoleto,), Velasquez, Rembrandt, Espinosa, Rodil, and others from different schools.  Admission free of charge.  Place of Exhibition, Hotel Del Recreo, No. 11 West 11th st, New-York City.

The 1876 the guidebook How To See New York and Its Environs pointed out that the Hotel De Recreo was on the European Plan, which essentially meant that meals were not included.

When Thomas Cochrane, a real estate operator, took over the establishment in 1877 he renamed it, first, the St. Peter's Hotel.  Two years later, for some reason, it became the St. Andrew Hotel.

In May 1877 John R. Graham checked in.  An Englishman, he was a "commercial traveler for a dry goods house," according to The New York Times, which added, "he was gentlemanly in his behavior and prompt in the payment of his bills."   On August 8 the newspaper reported, "John R. Graham committed suicide yesterday by cutting his throat with a razor at St. Peter's Hotel, No. 11 West Eleventh-street."  He had been found at 6 a.m. in his bed, "lying in a pool of blood."  The New-York Tribune said, "The corpse presented a ghastly appearance."  His throat was cut from the left ear to the larynx, severing both the carotid artery and the jugular vein.

Dr. Charles Graham's widow, Ella, sold the property on September 24, 1884 to Andrew W. Bogert.  He continued leasing it as a boarding house until October 1895 when he rented it to Reuben Burnham Moffat at $1,800 per year--or around $4,775 per month in today's money.  After decades the house was returned to a single family home.

Moffat and his bride, the former Ellen Low Pierrepont, had just been married just four months.  Both were socially prominent, Ellen's father being millionaire Henry Evelyn Pierrepont of Brooklyn.  The West 11th Street house once again became the scene of entertainments.  On January 8, 1896, for instance, the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "Mrs. R. Burnham Moffat gave a reception yesterday afternoon at her home, No. 11 West Eleventh-st.  Mrs. Moffat, who was Miss Pierrepont, of Brooklyn, was assisted in receiving by Mrs. George R. Moffat, Miss Julia Pierrepont, Mrs. A. A. Low, and Miss Anna J. Pierrepont."

R. Burnham Moffat.  original source unknown.

That the couple's home had been a boarding house and hotel was forgotten.  On December 5, 1897 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted, "R. Burnham Moffat, who married Miss Pierrepont, has one of the graceful, old fashioned mansions at 11 West Eleventh street."

On July 18, 1896, the couple's first child, Jay Pierrepont Moffat, was born.  The family would increase in 1898 with the birth of Elizabeth, and again in 1901 when Abbot Low Moffat was born.

By then, however, the Moffat family had moved on.  In May 1899 Bogert leased the house to wealthy lawyer Robert Gillespie Mead, Jr. and his wife, the former Elizabeth Manning Cleveland.  Bogart increased the rent to $2,000 per year, or around $5,350 per month today. 

Shortly after moving in the couple had a daughter, Theodora, who was born on September 9, 1899.  The family's summer home was in Ossining, New York.  As had been the case with Ellen Moffat, Elizabeth hosted social gatherings in the house.  On January 22, 1900 the New-York Tribune reported, "Cards for days at home are still being sent out.  Mrs. Robert Gillespie Mead, jr., of No. 11 West Eleventh-st., has cards out for Fridays until lent.  Mrs. Mead will be assisted in receiving by her mother, Mrs. Clement Cleveland."

Elizabeth was highly involved various organizations.  In 1911 she was a director of the newly formed Woman's Cosmopolitan club, "for the use of women engaged in or interested in the liberal arts or professions," as described by the New York Press.  A welfare worker, she raised money for hospitals and helped fund the American Cancer Society.

Theodora was enrolled in the exclusive Miss Chapin's School, graduating in 1917.  She went on to study at Vassar College, studying psychology.  Her mother introduced Theodora to society with a series of receptions in the house in December 1919 and January 1920.  

On May 13, 1921 the French scientist Madame Marie Curie was conferred the honorary degree of doctor of science at Smith College in Massachusetts.  The Evening World reported that after the ceremonies, "the entire student body, dressed in white with class ribbons of yellow, red, purple and green, formed a guard of honor along the path to the library."  It noted that accompanying the esteemed woman was "Mrs. William G. Mead of No. 11 West 11th Street, New York City."

Elizabeth was back in the newspapers the following year when, on September 4, 1922, The Morning Telegraph reported that she was to receive "the gold palms of officer of the French Academy, Foreign Department" from the French Government.  "The honor was given in recognition of Mrs. Mead's service to France during the world war and for her later assistance in raising the fund to purchase a gram of radium for Madame Curie," said the article.

On November 9, 1923, Theodora was married to Polish-born Theodor Abel in the nearby Church of the Ascension.  It took place on the silver anniversary of her parents' wedding.  Theodora would go on to become a recognized clinical psychologist and educator.

Following the death of Elizabeth's mother, Annie Ward Davenport Cleveland, in 1922, her father, Dr. Clement Cleveland moved into the West 11th Street house.  An eminent gynecologist, he was a founder of Memorial Hospital and surgeon-director emeritus of Women's Hospital.  He was at the family's winter home in Palm Beach, Florida on April 16, 1934 when he died at the age of 90. 

The Meads remained at 11 West 11th Street until about 1940.  The following year it was converted to apartments--a duplex in the basement and parlor levels, one apartment on the second floor, and a duplex on the third and new fourth floors.  Among the tenants over the next few years was Dr. Lewis A. Connor and his wife, the former Laila Ann Coston.  He was a leading authority on heart disease and one of the incorporators of the American Heart Association in 1924.

A renovation completed in 1968 resulted in a pre-kindergarten in the cellar.  That was short-lived and in 1969 the space became an apartment.  The charming house with its fascinating 190-year history survives, happily, greatly intact.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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